RELEASE: 97-278

December 5, 1997


Donald Savage, Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1547)
Michael Braukus, Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1979)
Dave Drachlis, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL (Phone: 205/544-0034)

TRW Space and Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, CA, has notified NASA that it will be unable to deliver the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, FL, on June 1, 1998, as required by contract, because it has experienced delays in assembly and testing of the facility. TRW is NASA's prime contractor for the observatory.

NASA and contractor officials met at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, this week to discuss the issue. While no new delivery date was agreed upon, the agency has directed TRW to develop a plan of action that would show how the contractor can minimize impact to the June 1 delivery.

Although a delay in delivery could delay the launch, currently scheduled for August 1998 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-93 mission, and could result in additional program costs, the exact impact is not yet known.

"The delay in delivery of the observatory is unfortunate," said Fred Wojtalik, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center observatory projects office manager in Huntsville, AL. "However, our first priority is to launch a world-class observatory which has been thoroughly tested and meets all requirements. We will work closely with TRW to ensure that happens."

The delay is primarily due to TRW's difficulty in configuring and programming its Integrated Spacecraft Automated Test System to test the observatory before it is delivered to NASA.

The Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility is expected to play a vital role in answering fundamental questions about the universe, including its age and size, and will probe the nature and amounts of so-called "dark matter," providing unique insight into one of nature's great puzzles. The observatory also will allow scientists to see and measure the details of hot gas clouds in clusters of galaxies; observe X-rays generated when stars are torn apart by the incredibly strong gravity around massive black holes in the centers of galaxies; and provide images that will help understand how exploding stars create and disperse many of the elements necessary for new stars, planets and life.

The Marshall Space Flight Center manages development of the observatory for the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters. Made of glass purchased from Schott Glaswerke, Mainz, Germany, the telescope's mirrors were built by Hughes Danbury Optical Systems, Danbury, CT, and assembled by Eastman-Kodak Company, Rochester, NY. The science instruments are being integrated into the science instrument module at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, Boulder, CO, before being tested and shipped to TRW. (NASA HQ Public Affairs Office)